I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Paris on a killer deal for Spring Break, with one of my best friends. We planned the whole thing ourselves, and I’d like to share with you what we did and how much it cost so maybe one day you can enjoy the City of Lights too.
Day 1: Touching Down and Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles
The plane ride was by far the deal that made this trip possible for us. We got round trip tickets for under $200 apiece. The reason for this was straight forward: we knew someone. That being said, I checked prices around the same time these were booked and they were only $400 normally priced. So best advice here is to pay attention to deals and then grab your tickets when the prices drop.
Our flight touched down at Charles de Gaule at 8 AM. We got some sleep on the flight, but knew we’d be fighting jet lag. Our first stop at the airport was the Tourist Information center. I tend to avoid these like the plague normally, but here’s why we did it: (1) a free map of the city, including a metro map, (2) museum passes, and (3) directions and transportation tickets to get to our Airbnb.
The man behind the counter was helpful in getting us public transport tickets and directions to our Airbnb (~12 euro/each). We also purchased museum passes: stop and get these at the airport if you’re visiting Paris. You can get them for different lengths of time; we bought the 4-day passes for ~65 euro/each. These allow you jump the line at major attractions and cover the entrance fee. The more museums you see, the better deal you get. We saw 6 major attractions that would have cost over 100 euro had we not had the passes–and we got to skip lines to maximize our time.
We spoke with our Airbnb host ahead of time, and he happily let us check in early as he was already out of town on business. So we hopped on the Metro for the first time and followed the directions we received from tourist information. We found the place without too much trouble and walked into the apartment with a view. This place cost us ~$115/night (split between 2 people), and gave us each our own bedroom, a large kitchen, and that killer view of the city. You can easily find an Airbnb for less money if you’re willing to sacrifice on space or share a bed. The gist remains the same, though: rent outside of the city center. Paris has a great public transport system–use it.
We checked out our neighborhood after we got settled in the Airbnb. This was one of the things I absolutely loved about Paris: you’re in a thriving metropolis, but if you duck around the right corner, you’re suddenly in an insulated neighborhood that has a small-town feel. We wandered the streets of our neighborhood, checking out the local shops. In Paris, shopping is still a highly personal thing: you get recommendations from shopkeepers and build relationships with them. Instead of a supermarket, you go visit specific shops: the patisserie, the fromagerie, the champagne store, the store for fruits and vegetables. It makes for a very personal experience and gives you a chance to practice your French; there were zero tourists in the area we stayed in so finding someone who spoke English was hit and miss.
After grabbing some sustenance (people walking on the streets eating a baguette is a thing), we headed back to the Airbnb for a nap. We made sure to keep this short as we didn’t want to throw our sleep schedules off, but to give us just enough to make it to after dark. We showered and felt like whole new people ready to head out into the city. I had booked a Street Art and Feminism Tour to kick off the trip. So we headed to our nearest Metro station (about a 7 minute walk from our flat) and began our fight with the ticket machine. Eventually we won a ticket (i.e. paid way too much for it) and got on the train.
The tour was a unique way to view the city, and it also served as an interesting orientation to Parisian culture. We were lucky enough to have one of the artists join us as we explored the streets. His work had been torn down within hours of it going up. This was tragic, but it seemed to be a common theme. A lot of the controversial art we saw had been vandalized in one way or another. Here’s a picture of our guides holding the remnants of a piece up while we discussed what it meant with the others on the tour.
After the tour, we ducked into a small bar and restaurant in the same neighborhood. We got a pint of beer for about 6 euro, and there was a vegan buddha bowl on the menu as if it had been waiting for me. You’ll notice a theme here: vegan food was easy to find, and Paris has a thing for buddha bowls. We took the metro home and crashed, ready to do it all again the next day.
Day 2: Cancelled Plans and Montmartre
We woke up on day 2 to the news that the Ghost Tour we booked had been cancelled due to the guide being ill. While disappointed, I understand the need to cancel a tour (i.e. go back and read about how I got sick in Ireland). Instead of pouting about it, we both looked on the bright side: an entire day to do anything we wanted in the City of Lights.
Most museums and attractions in Paris are closed on Mondays and/or Tuesdays, so we figured today would be a perfect day to go wherever the wind took us. We decided to start just down the street from our Airbnb at a patisserie. After grabbing some morning munchies, we went to the Metro station and hopped on. Once inside a major station (the one closest to us was pretty small), we found an information desk where we purchased our Navigo passes for the week. If you’re in Paris for longer than a couple days, get one of these.
It cost us 25 euro plus a 5 euro deposit for unlimited travel inside Paris and in the surrounding areas, on the Metro and on buses. This meant that 30 euro was our transportation cost for the week. (Think of a Navigo pass as sort of like an Oyster card in London, except instead of topping up a money amount, you top up on time. Make sense?) A Navigo pass in conjunction with an app like Citymapper is a killer combination for getting around Paris.
Passes in hand, we went off to find a crystal shop that popped up on my radar when I was researching. We both really wanted to grab a Marseilles tarot deck from France, just as a thing. So we spent some time exploring the shop, each grabbed a tarot deck, and went on our way. We stopped for lunch at a pizza place, and enjoyed the first of many proper “French lunches”. A “French lunch” lasts over an hour, contains at least 2 courses, and 1, sometimes 2, glasses of wine. When in Paris, we made like Parisians and made mealtimes luxurious. This is a practice we vowed to bring home with us–if not fully, at least the mindset (don’t eat lunch at your desk, eat food you think is amazing, put away your phone, etc.).
Fed and happy, we went hunting for some cool photo ops like the one at the beginning of this post. Neither of us had any real desire to go up the Eiffel Tower, so some photos around it were enough. We also chose to duck into Shakespeare and Company: one of the oldest English language bookstores in the world. We wandered across bridges and down streets before deciding to head up to Montmartre, the neighborhood on the hill known for its stunning views and artsy residents.
After enjoying another luxurious French meal in Montmartre, watching the city light up below, we hopped back on the Metro and headed home, excited for what we had planned next.